Traceability comes to the fore as metal theft figure begins to climb again

Research published recently by Vacant Property Specialists (VPS), a company specialising in the protection of premises that are temporarily void or vacant, shows that metal theft is on the rise again ‘after a dip following new laws’. The article, using the headline : Losing your mettle: Is the law failing to stand up to metal theft?, shows that the incidence of metal thefts reported in the media is back to the same level as it was before the introduction of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013. The draft analysis discovered that, prior to the Act, metal thefts were being reported in the media at rates of 400-500 per month. In the 12 months that followed the Act those reports reduced dramatically to around 200-300 per month. In February and March this year, however, the figure has leapt back to an average of over 400.

“Since official data of actual metal thefts is hard to come by, we decided one way to gauge the impact of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act would be to record every national and regional press report on metal theft involving materials such as cable, lead or copper,” explained VPS managing director Anthony Owen. “In terms of numbers, these reports run into tens of thousands, but this is likely to be an underestimate of the actual volume of such thefts, because many, if not most, will go unreported in the media. But it could at least provide some important trends – and it has.”

One explanation of the reversal of the downward trend was offered by Trace-in-Metal Ltd, the Yorkshire based company whose unique marking product allows stolen metal to be identified. Before the introduction of the Act, the company points out, the figures had reached almost epidemic levels and the government funded a police task force specifically to reduce the crime. Once the Act was introduced the funding dried up and any proactivity has been lost.

Trace-in-Metal’s managing director John Minary – a former West Yorkshire police detective – said: “Proactivity in the form of the Metal Theft Task Force was always going to result in reductions. What is clear now is that, with the pressure on the criminals being released, the SMD Act alone is not sufficient to reduce this very serious crime. “The SMD Act has strengthened licensing and taken cash out of the system. Traceability of the metal and having the ability to connect metal to transactions remain the missing link. The Trace-in-Metal system gives recyclers this ability.”

The system fires thousands of microdots into the metal sheets, ’marking’ them with an unique code.

In addition to being impregnated into the metal, the dots – which are almost invisible to the naked eye – are also painted onto each sheet using an all-weather lacquer that shows up under ultra-violet light. Such is the science behind Trace-in-Metal that even the smelting process cannot destroy the nickel dots and their unique tags.

John Minary continued: “It helps dealers to get on with their day job of reprocessing legitimate metal, without the worry of getting caught up with stolen metals. It keeps metal where it belongs – on roofs or providing vital infrastructure.

“I’m proud to say it is a Yorkshire invention that utilises Swedish innovation and ballistics expertise. It is totally unique and we believe it will revolutionise the way valuable metal, in particular lead is protected from thieves.

“Metal theft is big business and the Home Office estimates that it costs the UK economy around £220m a year. With resourcing being an on-going problem for police forces, anything that helps in preventing crime and saving police time must be welcomed.

This story first appeared in Ecclesiastical & Heritage World